If America is the melting pot of the world then Russia is the melting pot of personalities. Walking down Nevskii Prospekt, my senses are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of Russia; let me tell you, not all are the most pleasant, yet each is exclusive to Russia. Through the gray skies, the multiple personalities of the Russians’ shine through. I bring my sunglasses and umbrella everywhere, I do not know what to expect; they can only provide me with limited protection from what I will come across.
As a New Yorker I like to claim to have seen and heard everything, yet thrown into the conundrum that is Russia I must reluctantly acknowledge that you can’t see this in America. One moment I see a sea of mullets, next, models in the latest fashion and highest heels possible accost me. The babushki of the city roam the streets, ruling over all happenings of the city. There is a conflict seemingly in time period, thought, and social etiquette in Russia.
At home with my host family I am shown the kindness and strong inclination towards sharing (so much so that I always leave the table five pounds heavier). I always have a friendly face ready to gently correct me or a little girl ready to school me in a simple, yet profoundly confusing way: a card game in a foreign language. Permission is granted to me to be a part of their culture and study their habits. At teatime, I try to gracefully wade my way through conversation and perform my duties as some sort of guest. The most civilized of activities becomes a testing ground for skills, a real conversation class; however, there are no Americans to set the rules. The Russians have their own rules at home that are consistently perplexing. My goal is to one day sit at the table and claim that yes, I can speak and act in a way that mirrors a sixth grader, which is where I currently feel I fall. This pleasant scene is a stark contrast to the dead faces I see on the street that would never acknowledge my presence. I fumble out words to try and get a taxi or order food and I am stared down. Also, there is an openness that is by invitation only. At foreigner themed spots, I sometimes get a friendly smile but it takes much more to get past the prototypical Russian face.
I think my new word is пропобовать, which means to try because basically that is all that I am doing at home or navigating across the city. I try new foods, directions, phrases, and whatever else is thrown in front of me. The Russian soul too is in a stage of experimentation. They are working with their supposed conflict to get to their own special blend. Somehow, the Russians make it work in harmony. It all melds into the Russian identity as uniquely one character. Russians too can all live in some form of harmony, just as we do in America, but of course, in their own Russian way.
By: Sarah Diaz
Term: Summer 2009